On 24 November 1916 Private Martin O’Meara, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War, was honoured at a well-attended ceremony at Lorrha, his home village in County Tipperaary in Ireland. Except, however, that he wasn’t actually present to be honoured.
The Kings County Chronicle reported that:
The little village of Lorrha in North Tipperary was en fete last Friday on the occasion of the presentation to Martin O’Meara, V.C., who hails from the district. By motor car, by brake, by side car, by cycle, and by foot came hundreds of people to testify their pride in the bravery displayed by the gallant North Tipperary man. A platform was erected in a ball alley by the side of a venerable old abbey. Gaily decorated poles with the Union Jack and the Shamrock added a bright appearance to the scene. Fortunately the weather was sunny and bright if a trifle windy.
The ceremony started at 1.00pm. The list of attendees included a broad cross section of the notable personalities from King’s County (no Offaly) and County Tipperary, as well as Meara’s brothers (presumably Thomas, Hugh and John O’Meara), his sister Alice, and his cousin John O’Meara (‘better known as Doctor’, according to the Kings County Chronicle) who made a brief speech.
Another newspaper account noted that ‘a very large gathering’ saw his sister Alice O’Meara presented with a ‘valuable gold watch.’ Alice received the watch on behalf of her brother who had left Ireland by this time and was in England. This watch is now missing.
We do not know exactly why Martin O’Meara did not attend the ceremony. It is possible that he did not want all the attention, or perhaps he was uncomfortable with being involved in what was, more or less, a recruitment rally for the British Army. He was a devout Roman Catholic and nationalist political views, even if he was not a Sinn Féin supporter.
These factors in tandem suggest a tendency towards uneasiness about being publicly identified with the British Army.
Previous Irish Victoria Cross winners had been regarded with contempt by some of the more radical nationalists; Michael O’Leary VC, of County Cork, had addressed several meetings in Ireland during 1915 and received a mixed reception:
They brought Michael O’Leary, who had won the Victoria Cross, to one of their recruiting meetings but we gave them a bad reception by continuously boohing, shouting and singing rebel songs.
This story forms part of my biography of Martin O’Meara which is now available at bookshops in Perth and Canberra, and online. This biography provides an account of Martin O’Meara’s life from his birth in County Tipperary in 1885 to his death at the Claremont Mental Hospital in Perth, Western Australia, in 1935.